In a time where it may feel like there is a big bank building on every corner, Ken Willis works for a bank that works behind the scenes. For more than 25 years, he’s been in the banking industry working at Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston (FHLBank Boston). If you haven’t heard of FHLBank Boston, don’t worry. In his words, “Most folks outside of the banking industry don’t recognize our name because we don’t directly serve consumers. We don’t have branches or ATMs, but the funding we provide impacts communities throughout New England.”
Part of the reason for the lack of widespread recognition is because the bank works at the wholesale level, instead of making individual loans. FHLBank Boston is one of eleven current banks in the federal home loan bank system that was originally created by Congress in 1932. Federal home loan banks work behind the scenes with member organizations such as commercial banks, savings institutions, credit unions, Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and insurance companies to provide funding to support housing finance, economic development, and community investment measures.
With only 200 employees, FHLBank Boston doesn’t have the scale to network or interact directly with all of the New England communities that benefit directly or indirectly from the liquidity and funding it provides. However, the bank’s cooperative structure provides member organizations, which have the pulse on the communities they serve, with the funding, programs, and technical assistance they need to funnel resources locally and regionally in impactful ways.
Ken started mentoring with the Mel King Institute Community Mentorship Program because he wanted to give back by providing guidance and support to those early in their careers. He was able to connect with Joe Kriesberg at MACDC about shared community development work and afterwards with Shirronda Almeida about mentorship opportunities. Like many other mentors in the program, Ken works in an industry where efforts to diversify leadership and employment opportunities are still evolving. He would like to provide the support he felt he was lacking early on in his career. In his words, “I didn’t have anyone to talk to, and I would have wanted to talk to somebody who looks like me.” His goal with his mentees is to provide both a sense of comfort and a sounding board for approaching difficult situations in the workplace.
One memory that stands out for Ken is when a recent mentee was putting together a proposal for her firm and needed some feedback about strategy. They evaluated the proposal together, and he was able to provide a sounding board for her work. Building off of that interaction, they began a close professional relationship, enabling Ken to recommend her for a board position at a local nonprofit due to their aligned work in development. And now, they serve on the board together!
Ken feels passionately about community and economic development because the issues hit close to home. “I’m really all about community revitalization because I grew up in Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan. It’s nice to come back and assist with building these neighborhoods,” he explained. He wants more people to know about both the homeownership and income inequality gap. In America, most individual’s wealth is tied up in their home value and their retirement accounts. Because of historical discrimination, people of color were left behind in investing in these two areas, and this gap is only growing bigger over time. Part of his work at FHLBank Boston directly addresses these two problems: “We acknowledge that there’s this huge racial homeownership gap, and we are in a position to do something about it through our members.” These community development issues are more important now than ever, and the work continues to be as essential as it is impactful.
The Mel King Institute is looking for leaders in the community development field that want to give back, just like Ken. We are launching the Community Development Collective, where community development professionals can share their experiences and knowledge through a wide range of MKI programming, such as mentorship, speaker opportunities, and instructor opportunities. If you’re interested, check out our sign up form HERE.